New CIO's Job One: Fix federal contracting

New CIO's Job One: Fix federal contracting

Summary: DC's Guv 2.0 czar Vivek Kundra promises to bring federal government into the modern age, but he will have to confront the government's cumbersome contracting and purchasing procedures.


Absolutely brilliant choice: President Obama has named D.C. CTO Vivek Kundra as Chief Information Officer of the United States. I wrote about Kundra in January, based on a Washington Post article. Kundra has been aggressively been driving DC to adopt Web 2.0 technologies, pushing down costs and increasing government responsiveness.

Obama seems particularly interested in the “cutting costs” aspect, The Times’ Brian Knowlton noting that a six-line message from the White House referred twice to cost-cutting.

In a 25-minute conference call, Kundra set these sweet goals:

  • extend use of cloud computing in the federal government
  • put vast amounts of public information online through a website
  • make government IT just as good as private sector IT

So two major themes here -- cutting costs and modernizing IT. They go together of course. But it’s not just the technology. When the topic turns to making government ops more efficient, the media quickly notes (I heard the News Hour bring this up in an interview with Janet Napolitano) that every president says there will be cost-savings through efficiency. Why does it never happen?

Simple answer: failure to reform government’s contracting and purchasing procedures, which have become sticky with red tape, unnecessarily slow and burdensome and corrupted with no-bid contracts. I’m no contracting expert and I realize government is burdened with legal requirements, but I know that large private sector organizations manage to move much more swiftly than government does.

It’s not as sexy as running a contest for open-source applications to improve government but Kundra will have to work with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to devise a new way for the government to do business. Without doing so, government IT will never match the private sector’s and more importantly we will continue to waste taxpayer money at a time when we can least afford to do so. If reform succeeds it will benefit government and taxpayers for decades to come.

Topics: IT Employment, Enterprise Software, Government, Government US, Software

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  • Obamasiah's future for the peasants...

    Well, I am sure after he taxes everyone for breathing, hands out freebies to those who do not work and strips you of your civil rights I don't think anyone will care.
    • Re: Obamasiah's future for the peasants

      Grow up!

      Bush, Cheney and Rowe cannibalized America and your whining about Obama-he inherited this nightmare and Congress will modify his proposals. The system ain't perfect but still works. The Feds are needed to counter-balance the free for all the Repubics created.

    • You are an embarrassment

      and you need to grow up, whatever your claimed political affiliation.
      You're no better, and maybe even worse, than the looney left Bush
      Marcos El Malo
  • Thanks guys

    I write a piece about far-reaching and important IT changes with a new CIO (a new position in the fed gov) and I get off-the-wall Obama/Bush-bashing. Great.
    • Partisan politics as usual

      Best thing to do is to ignore the idiots and keep reporting. As long as demonization of opposing politicians is seen as the key to winning elections for the Good Guy Party (whichever one that happens to be), you're going to get responses similar to the ones you got.
      John L. Ries
  • Government Should Not Work Like Business

    I think it's important to recognize that Government is (and should be) held to a different set of standards than private business. Government is required by regulation to deal equitably with all willing contractors. Private business, on the other hand, is under no obligation to offer equal opportunities to all interested offerors and can work within existing business relationships, even if the contract cost is greater. This probably accounts for business's greater agility.
    • You hit the nail on the head

      Having been involved with Government procurements and contracts for many many years, it is clear that there is a significant difference between commercial and Government buying. While treating all bidders equitably is the right thing to do, it leads, as many have pointed out, to lengthy procurement cycles for a variety of reasons, some good, some foolish.

      But until the FAR changes, what we have is what we have and the only way to speed this process up a little is to ensure there are enough, properly trained, contracting staff members.

      PS: I'm not in contracting but have worked with contracting staff for years and see how overburdened many of them are.
  • RE: New CIO's Job One: Fix federal contracting

    the democrats helped create the problem they "inherited" and now making it far worse. I don't think Obama knows how to save money. He is spending ours like water. other people's money.

    I wonder if this guy is a tax cheat too.

    Government will never be as nimble as the private sector. When public monies are at stake there is always waste. Government also does not hold their people accountable like they do in the private sector. they can spend too much and just charge us higher taxes.

    I hope they are mindfull of security with the Russians and Chinese engaging in cyber-warfare.
    • Holding people accountable

      <b>pizzaman said:
      "Government also does not hold their people accountable like they do in the private sector"</b>

      you mean the way they held Dick Fuld and Bernie Madoff accountable?
      • Actually...

        How about Barney Franks, Chris Dodd, Bill Clinton, and Franklin Raines ? These are the main architects of the housing crisis that cost us trillions. Madoff is a bad apple but we have more corruption and greed in our government than we do in the business world.

        We have a government now that wants centralized power and that contradicts our constitution. Power corrupts absolutely. Lots of regulations coming down the pike. If I want a nanny I will hire one. Government regulations are ruining our economy and will further damage our healthcare system if we let them.
  • The government holds people accountable.

    Federal employees don't spend their days laughing as they use up tax dollars. Most I've known are quite capable and work very hard. It's true that they don't often get fired - but they do get transferred to less appealing positions and lose the ability to move up the chain if they don't do well.

    Having said that, I like most of three bullets:

    1. extend use of cloud computing in the federal government
    - Good. The first step is less about contracting and more about removing outdated security policies. Even if someone posts their email address on the public govt site, that email address is then considered PII. That means that whoever runs that Web site has to spend weeks of hours backing it up securely and then making sure only certain people have access to it...despite it being public anyway.

    2. put vast amounts of public information online through a website
    - This is sort of a good idea but I'm not totally sure of the purpose. The worst solution ever invented since 1999 has been, "let's make a web site for it." There are thousands of govt web sites. And places people go to first for data.

    3. make government IT just as good as private sector IT
    - That's a pretty vague, and self-depricating, goal.